Tag Archives: library careers

About a Decade Later: Former Job Hunter Greg Bem

Back in 2012/2013 I ran a survey of job hunters (co-authored by Naomi House of INALJ). It had over 500 responses, including 117 people who were at least initially willing to be non-anonymous. In this series, we check in with these respondents to see where they are about a decade later. 

Greg Bem filled out the original survey in 2014 and his answers appeared as Full time schedule, room for innovation, digital responsibilities. At the time, he was working as a coordinator for a student media center at a college in Washington and looking for work as a librarian or digital preservationist. We followed up with him in early 2016 and learned he had moved to a part-time librarian faculty position.  

I was interested to learn he’s still at the same institution, but now with full-time work. He was kind enough to answer my questions below:

Where are you now? What’s your work situation like, and what path did you take to get where you are?

I am currently the library coordinator at Lake Washington Institute of Technology, in addition to being tenured faculty. Since I last responded, I moved from part-time to full-time (annual renewable), and then entered the tenure-track process. The former library coordinator left the college and I inherited the role. 

Were any parts of your journey completely unexpected?

Everything has been unexpected. I didn’t think I would be in academic librarianship after a year or two. The journey has been rewarding. Every year I look back and think about how much my commitment to the role and the library I serve has also supported my growth and development.

Looking over your past answers, what pops out at you? Has anything changed? 

I think I was very optimistic given my circumstances, but had little perspective on the flow of the job market. Now that I have been in the profession for almost a decade, I know how little changes across the most coveted (and best paid) positions in librarianship. It is a very challenging time for folks who want to enter the job market and get positions, both entry-level or otherwise. 

Have you had a chance to hire anyone? If so, what was that like?

We have hired five people since I’ve been at the college and two were during my time as coordinator. It’s an engaging and important experience, one that asks a lot of everyone on the committee.

Do you have any advice for job hunters?

Volunteer, and try to get as much experience in customer service, technology, or education before it’s time to enter libraries. These skills translate directly and, in many cases, will put you above the rest. 

Do you have any advice for people who hire LIS folks?

Be open to folks who are coming from non-library backgrounds. Be open to folks who bring new and fresh perspectives. Radical change is usually necessary in libraries. If you aren’t adopting that lens to improve services for your community, then you are missing out. 

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

I hope that job-seekers continue to think about where libraries and library work is headed and find the challenges worthwhile. We are far from a golden age when it comes to fiscal support for libraries and library workers, but I think we will get there. Stay positive and keep growing!

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Can’t remember a wow yet.

Rivington Street, line waiting for easy books, 1923: Librarian holds up book and those who want it raise their hands. NYPL Digital Collections.

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library 

Title: Technical Services Manager

Titles hired include: Technical Processor, Paraprofessional Cataloger, Library Receiving Processor, Bindery Associate

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ HR

√ The position’s supervisor 

Which of the following does your organization regularly require of candidates?

√ Online application

 √ References

√ Proof of degree

√ Supplemental Questions

 √ More than one round of interviews 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

Briefly describe the hiring process at your organization and your role in it:

As manager I:

1. Decide on posting position and update job description if necessary.

1a. Create screening and interview questions.

2. Review applications.

3. Screen applicants by phone.

4. Conduct in-person interviews.

5. Make final decision.

6. Offer position.

7. Complete hiring paperwork for HR to do their background check.

7. Schedule start date.

Think about the last candidate who really wowed you, on paper, in an interview, or otherwise. Why were they so impressive?

Can’t remember a wow yet. Very good candidates were able to explain intellectual freedom and to have questions ready to ask about the role and the library.

What do you wish you could know about candidates that isn’t generally revealed in the hiring process?

Nothing. 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant 

Resume:  √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant 

CV:  √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant 

What is the most common mistake that people make in an interview?

Only saying what they think the interviewer wants to hear. 

Do you conduct virtual interviews? What do job hunters need to know about shining in this setting?

We don’t for these positions.

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

Having that direct experience myself coming into the library, I am cognizant that non-library experience can translate well into libraryland, it is just a matter of nomenclature and environment.

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad 

What does your organization do to reduce bias in hiring? What are the contexts in which discrimination still exists in this process?

HR is working on updating gendered language to neutral language in Job descriptions and policies. HR is also retraining and working closely with managers on avoiding hiring bias. Stories abound of managers using home addresses to decide if a person lives too far from the job location or what kind of neighborhood the applicant lives in.

What questions should candidates ask you? What is important for them to know about your organization and the position you are hiring for?

What does retention look like in the department/branch? What is positive about the library? What is the library working on for the community?

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Midwestern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Urban

√ Suburban

√ Rural 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 201+ 

Author’s note: Hey, thanks for reading! If you like reading, why not try commenting or sharing? Or are you somebody who hires Library, Archives or other LIS workers? Please consider giving your own opinion by filling out the survey here.

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Filed under 200+ staff members, Midwestern US, Public, Rural area, Suburban area, Urban area

Library School Career Center: University of Iowa

I’m super excited to reintroduce this series, which is a collaboration with Hack Library School (HLS). HLS is written by library school students. In this series, the students interview their schools to dig deeper into the resources provided for job hunting and career support. We are cross-posting here and on Hack Library School. This first post in the return to this series is written by Kellee Forkenbrock, who you may know from Further Questions.

By the way, if you are an employer looking to get your job ad out to library schools, Hilary Kraus (who you may also know from Further Questions) has created a very helpful spreadsheet with best process to reach each of the 63 ALA continually accredited library schools.


This interview is with Duncan Stewart, Rare Materials & Monograph Cataloging Librarian at the University of Iowa School of Library & Information Science (SLIS). Duncan is also the University Libraries liaison librarian for SLIS, and a special collections cataloger in the Department of Cataloging and Metadata.  As SLIS liaison Stewart is responsible for Library and Information and Museum Studies collection management and coordinates the UI Libraries-SLIS student mentoring program matching library science students with working academic librarians. He also assists LISSO with resume coaching, mock interviews, and occasional presentations. He earned his MLS at Indiana University – Bloomington.

Career Center Information

Who staffs the career center?  Please talk a little about how it is managed and run.

While the University’s career resources aren’t specific to the SLIS program, my colleague Katie McCullough serves as the main contact for library students seeking support services. In addition to Katie’s expertise, students can connect with their SLIS liaison and the Library and Information Science Student Organization (LISSO) for additional assistance.

Does the career center provide any of the following:

√ Job Listings   √ Resume/CV Review   √ Help Writing Cover Letters   

√ Interview Practice  √ Mentorship Program

√  Other (Please Specify): Sponsorship opportunities are available to students who wish to attend professional library conferences, including the Iowa Library Association’s (ILA) annual meeting.

Do the career center provide online services?

√ Website with resources   √ Webinars  √ Twitter: @UIowaSLIS   √ LinkedIn  √ Facebook: @SLISUIowa

What do you think is the best way for students to use the career center?

Our mentorship program is the best way to get hands-on experience and on-the-job perspective about career solutions.

May alumni use career center resources?

We offer a variety of services for the SLIS alumni, including online spotlights, informational webinars, and networking events.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers about your services in particular, or about library hiring/job hunting in general?

I’ve already mentioned that SLIS students should take full advantage of the mentorship program but connecting with LISSO is another recommendation. Professional library organizations like ALA also have student chapters that can help students find a career path in librarianship. Above all, always keep learning from others in your program. Seeking out advice is a better indicator that you are a self-starter than anything else.

Students’ Career Paths

Can you talk a little bit about the school’s approach to internships, practicums and/or volunteering?

Our practicum program is facilitated by Kara Logsdon, a lecturer with over three decades of library experience – including 21 years as a public librarian. In addition to the SLIS courses she teaches, Kara connects our students with partners and organizations seeking to bring any form of library practice into their workflow. It’s a worthwhile gift of experience that aligns with the SLIS model.

Are there any notable graduates?

I have a few students I’d like to highlight. Andrea Martin is my former student doing contract cataloging of rare materials at Loras, She starts a paraprofessional job as rare materials cataloger at Yale’s Beinicke Library in January 2023. Also, four of my former students work here at UI Libraries: Jennifer Bradshaw (Metadata Librarian), Bethany Kluender (Rare Materials Cataloger), Damien Ihrig (Curator of the John Martin Rare Books Room), and Lauren Claeys (Cataloging Assistant).

Demographics

How many students in the library school?

We have approximately 60 students in the SLIS program.

What degree(s) do you offer?

We offer a Master’s certificate in LIS, which can be used in a joint program with either a Master of Fine Arts in the Center for the Book or with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) with the College of Law. We also offer a Teacher Librarian MA program as well as several certification options, including Special Collections, Public Digital Humanities, Informatics, School Media, and Book Studies.

Is it ALA accredited?

Our LIS program is ALA accredited.

What are the entrance requirements?

Please see this site for our most current admission requirements for our Graduate College and this site for our most current requirements for our MLIS degree.

When was the library school founded?

The first SLIS class of students started in September 1967. Please see this site for the complete history of our SLIS program.

Where are you? Where is the school located?

√ Midwestern US

√ suburban area


This interview was conducted by Kellee Forkenbrock, who is a second year Master of Library Science/Public Digital Humanities Certification student at University of Iowa’s School of Library and Information Science. She is a Contributing Writer and Community Manager for Hack Library School as well as an author and wellness blogger under the pseudonym Eliza David. Learn more about Kellee through her blog, by connecting with her on LinkedIn, or by following her on Twitter @elizadwrites.

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About a Decade Later: Former Job Hunter George Bergstrom

Back in 2012/2013 I ran a survey of job hunters (co-authored by Naomi House of INALJ). It had over 500 responses, including 117 people who were at least initially willing to be non-anonymous. In this series, we check in with these respondents to see where they are about a decade later. 

George Bergstrom filled out the original survey in 2013 and his answers appeared as Doing the Research. At the time, he was a part time Instruction Librarian and Adjunct Instructor and had been looking for full time work for more than 18 months. We followed up with him in 2014 and found that he was still looking for full time work, but had slowed his search due to having multiple part time jobs. 

When I checked in with him recently I learned that he is currently working in professional development at his State library. He was kind enough to answer my questions below:

Where are you now? What’s your work situation like, and what path did you take to get where you are?

My current role is Southwest Regional Coordinator, Professional Development Office – Indiana State Library. I assist any library in my region of the state with professional development and other statewide services. All public libraries have to engage with myself and the other coordinators (since there are certification statutes in state law) and academic and school libraries can choose to engage with us. I also work with the correctional institutions in my region to provide services to the inmates. Since the last interview I have worked at a private for-profit university as well as the transition to working for the state library.

Were any parts of your journey completely unexpected?
My time at the for-profit was a bit unexpected. For the first few years it felt very similar to both my past experiences in public and academic libraries, and it was different from my perceptions of what for-profits are like before I began working there. It was smaller (only five locations in two cities) and family owned/run, but after the first few years I began to notice/experience some of the negatives of the for-profit side of the industry. On the positive side I did gain experience in working with using games in education, which prompted me to join ALA GameRT and I am now the president-elect for the roundtable.

Looking over your past answers, what pops out at you? Has anything changed?
I noticed one of the questions asked about salary listings in job ads, which seems to be an issue that is again in the job hunting zeitgeist. I still feel that these should be required, especially as I again begin to contemplate a new job search. In the past I had been unwilling/unable to move, but I am now very interested in moving and not knowing the salary range makes it a big gamble to apply for a job that might not pay enough to justify the move.
 

Have you had a chance to hire anyone? If so, what was that like?
While at my previous job (for-profit, academic) I was on a few search committees. This allowed me to work with a group of colleagues to do the initial review of applicants and make recommendations on which candidates to move to the next phase of the interview process. This is an interesting experience as it allows some input without having the responsibility of making the hiring decision. Knowing who this side of the hiring equation works has provided some valuable insights for my on job searches. It has helped reinforce the importance of customizing both resume/CV and cover letter to best match the position applying for.

Do you have any advice for job hunters?
As always, do as much research as you can about each position. Learn what you can about the library, the unit/department (if the library/system is large enough to have units), the larger institution the library is within (university or the like) if applicable, and any of the coworkers/possible supervisors. Knowing what they already do can help you position your skills and abilities within their situation and explain how you would benefit their institution. Now even more than 10 years ago, you will also want to research the area you might be working (city, region, state, etc.) to make sure you will feel comfortable in this new location. It may be a great job, but if you won’t feel comfortable in that location then ultimately you may not be successful. Work-life balance is very important and should be considered when job hunting.

Do you have any advice for people who hire LIS folks?
Same advice as last time, please communicate as much as you can with your candidate pool. Let them know when you are reviewing, let them know if they have made that first cut, and let them know after all interviews are complete as well as if they were selected or not.
 

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If I put my pen down and stop taking notes, don’t talk for five more minutes.

Photograph of Card Catalog in Central Search Room. National Archives.

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library 

Title: Branch Manager

Titles hired include: Librarian, Associate, Materials Handler, Manager

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ The position’s supervisor 

Which of the following does your organization regularly require of candidates?

√ Online application

√ References 

√ Supplemental Questions

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

√ More than one round of interviews 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ Other: We did in the past but it wasn’t equitable with hiring so we have turned it off and am reviewing every application. 

Briefly describe the hiring process at your organization and your role in it:

Post position, review applications, send out SparkHire interviews, review SparkHires, email for in-person, offer position. Depending on my role in hiring, I would be organizing the entire process or stepping in at reviewing and/or in-person. 

Think about the last candidate who really wowed you, on paper, in an interview, or otherwise. Why were they so impressive?

Cover letter stated experience in their natural voice and fully answered questions in the in-person interviews – and I mean tying the answer back to an experience they had and how it relates. 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

For a professional position, no cover letter. In interviews, rambling while not answering questions. If I put my pen down and stop taking notes, don’t talk for five more minutes. 

What do you wish you could know about candidates that isn’t generally revealed in the hiring process?

Honesty. Let’s say the schedule is set and they are “Yep, can work that” and then after hired want changes. 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One!  

Resume: √ Two is ok, but no more  

CV: √ We don’t ask for this  

What is the most common mistake that people make in an interview?

Not answering the question completely!!!

Do you conduct virtual interviews? What do job hunters need to know about shining in this setting?

We do if location is an issue. Job hunters should know that technical difficulties happen and to not let it fluster them. We expect it and can work through it but can’t work through you getting thrown off. 

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

Customer service experience is a huge plus. I have hired staff with zero library experience but customer service experience because the skills are transferrable. I am looking for someone kind. Library skills can be taught but kindness and patience cannot. 

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad 

What does your organization do to reduce bias in hiring? What are the contexts in which discrimination still exists in this process?

We require “education OR similar experience.” Getting a degree can be a barrier which is why we look at every application. 

What questions should candidates ask you? What is important for them to know about your organization and the position you are hiring for?

They should ask about the team and environment. What they can expect with training. How they will be evaluated. I’ve offered people that I have offered the position to to talk with my staff for an honest view as me as a supervisor. Job seekers know they will be happy in a position so interview the hiring manager. 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Midwestern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Urban 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 51-100 

Is there anything else you’d like to say, either to job hunters or to me, the survey author? 

How important it is to attach a cover letter and explain how your skills would be a good fit with my position. And insert personality. 

Author’s note: Hey, thanks for reading! If you like reading, why not try commenting or sharing? Or are you somebody who hires Library, Archives or other LIS workers? Please consider giving your own opinion by filling out the survey here.

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 50-100 staff members, Midwestern US, Public, Urban area

Further Questions: All About Cover Letters

Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

This week’s question is a multipart one again, with bullets.

Does your organization ask for cover letters?

  • Do you ask for cover letters explicitly in the job ad or do you just expect to receive them?
  • In one brief sentence, what is the purpose of a cover letter?
  • How many pages should a cover letter be?
  • Do you have a preference for format (docx, pdf, etc)?
  • If you receive job applications by email, should the cover letter be included in the body of the email, as an attachment, or both?
  • Do you expect that a cover letter will be tailored to your job opening?
  • Does the Cover letter receive more, equal, or less weight than other parts of the application?
  • If your organization has automated application screening, is the automated screening also applied to cover letters?
  • What information do you want to see included in the cover letter (and is this specified in the job ad)?
  • What kinds of things make cover letters stand out (in good or bad ways)?
  • Anything else you want to tell us about cover letters?

Answers are below, but I also created a new mini-survey! If you have hired at least one LIS worker and would like to share your views on cover letters, please take it at this link. I am trying something new with this survey and will be letting folks view responses directly, rather than posting here on the blog. So, please don’t share information that you consider private.


Christian Zabriskie, Executive Director, Onondaga County Public Library: I see people put a lot of stress and worry into cover letters and I have a formula that I think everyone should follow, it’s useful and makes the process less stressful.

Paragraph 1 where did you hear about the job from

Paragraph 2 what specific skills that are listed in the ad can you speak to

Paragraph 3 what instances in your career have allowed you to display these traits

Closing “I look forward to discussing how I could benefit your organization” because you always want to imply that of COURSE you are the answer to the problem. 

and that is it. 

I promise you that employers spend less time reading the cover letter than you spent writing it. Stick to the facts and speak to the job ad. 


Anonymous:

Do you ask for cover letters explicitly in the job ad or do you just expect to receive them? I ask for them in job ads.

In one brief sentence, what is the purpose of a cover letter? To give the applicant the ability to expand upon their skillset and how that skillset matches up with the posted position.

How many pages should a cover letter be? One. (I would prefer it to be one page, but it’s not a deal breaker if it extends into a second page. However, if its one giant wall of text that extends into multiple pages, I will think less of the candidate.)

Do you have a preference for format (docx, pdf, etc)? PDF, but docx is okay. I’ve had issues with docx files showing markup/track changes in personal files. To eliminate that, I personally use PDFs. 

If you receive job applications by email, should the cover letter be included in the body of the email, as an attachment, or both? Attachment.

Do you expect that a cover letter will be tailored to your job opening? Yes! Use it as an opportunity to shine and show off (but in a succinct way).

Does the Cover letter receive more, equal, or less weight than other parts of the application? Equal.

If your organization has automated application screening, is the automated screening also applied to cover letters? We do not have automatic screening.

What information do you want to see included in the cover letter (and is this specified in the job ad)? Cover letter is the first look I have at someone’s communication skills. Having the ability to communicate well is specified in our job ads.

What kinds of things make cover letters stand out (in good or bad ways)? Poor grammar and punctuation- not good!

Anything else you want to tell us about cover letters? This is the place to show/expand upon things in your resume and how they connect to and enhance the requested job skills. It’s a great tool, use it!


Donna Pierce, Library Director, Krum Public Library: 

For City Department Heads I would think all applications would have a cover letter. 

For my staff positions – I am just grateful if their resume is readable and doesn’t have spelling errors!  (My favorite: list your degrees – BS in Education!)


Laurie Phillips, Interim Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: 

Does your organization ask for Cover Letters? Yes, although we call it a letter of application. 

Do you ask for cover letters explicitly in the job ad or do you just expect to receive them? We ask for a letter of application in the ad. 

In one brief sentence, what is the purpose of a cover letter? You should use the letter of application/cover letter to explain how your credentials fit the job as posted and the qualifications. A little more explanation than what’s in the resume is very helpful. Too often, people who are applying think these things should be obvious in their resume, but they often aren’t and it’s very helpful to us when you pull out aspects of those positions and experiences that directly apply to the position. I guess that wasn’t one brief sentence, right? 

How many pages should a cover letter be? As long as it takes. Don’t detail everything on your resume. Just cover what’s being asked for in the ad. 

Do you have a preference for format (docx, pdf, etc)? We’re okay with .docx but you’re running the risk that formatting and fonts may not translate. We will probably create a pdf from your Word document if you don’t send it as a pdf. Creating a pdf locks in the look of your letter and other information. 

If you receive job applications by email, should the cover letter be included in the body of the email, as an attachment, or both? No. it’s unnecessary. The committee doesn’t even see the email. The documents (which should be named so it’s clear from whom and what they are, or we have to do that for you) are saved to a shared folder/drive for the committee. 

Do you expect that a cover letter will be tailored to your job opening? Absolutely. To my mind, that’s the point of the letter of application. You’re addressing the ad. 

Does the Cover letter receive more, equal, or less weight than other parts of the application? Probably equal or more. If we have to pick through your resume to determine if you’re qualified, then you haven’t done your job. The letter is your opportunity to show your communication skills and to show how the job is a great fit for your skills and experience. 

If your organization has automated application screening, is the automated screening also applied to cover letters? We don’t have automated screening.

What information do you want to see included in the cover letter (and is this specified in the job ad)? Again, addressing the qualifications. Let’s say you don’t have academic library experience, but you have other higher ed experience. Talk about how that’s relevant. Or it’s a public-facing position and you have retail experience (especially retail management). If you’re trying to shift from one type of librarianship to another, address that in your letter. 

What kinds of things make cover letters stand out (in good or bad ways)? I actually like it when someone shows me that they fit the qualifications even if they don’t have direct experience. Being enthusiastic about the type of position, showing that you know something about it and would fit with the institution and the work is really important. If someone doesn’t write well, or doesn’t use the letter in ways that they could/should, it weighs against them. 

Anything else you want to tell us about cover letters? Address the ad!


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: My institution does require a cover letter and I am personally a huge fan. That said, I have learned to develop different expectations among cover letter expectations for part-time positions, full-time hourly paid staff, professional staff, and library faculty. Here are some thoughts:

  • All applications are managed through an online system. Job ads indicate that a cover letter, resume/CV, and the names of references are required and each piece is uploaded into the application system.
  • A cover letter’s goal is to provide information about who a candidate is and why the job they are seeking is the right one for them and the employer.
  • Cover length depends. For many part-time or hourly positions cover letters are usually around ½ to ¾ page. For other positions, including library faculty, I prefer not more than two.
  • I don’t have a format preference but I do prefer narrative/text over bulleted lists.
  • I only see the application in our online system and it also requires completing a long form with lots of questions and information about previous employers, eligibility to work, etc., I see the cover letter and other items as attachments at the bottom of the online form. In the old days I preferred the cover letter and resume as attachments.
  • I do prefer that people give an indication that they know which job they are applying for. Forgetting to remove the name of the last place the person applied is not a good look. And I’ll admit to being a bit picky and expecting applicants to refer to my institution as a “college” and not a university.
  • Again this really depends. Cover letters for some positions look very generic and don’t include much that contributes to making a decision unless the applicant is very careless and has proof read well, or submits an unusually detailed letter. For library faculty positions the letter carries (for me) at least as much weight as a CV because I expect each of those items to do different things (they don’t always, but I always hope they will).
  • Automatic screening – this is a very interesting question. My sense is that the only screening is to verify that it is part of the submitted package. I don’t think anyone in HR is reading the letters before they are posted for review. The form that applicants complete is intended to verify minimum qualifications which is really as far as HR will go in assessing candidates.
  • I am going to combine my responses to these last three bullets. Nothing is specified about the cover letter. Certainly, for library faculty, I expect applicants to address the three main components of the position (teaching, scholarship, service) and also to say why they are interested in the specific job available at our specific library/college. A letter that stands out does just this. One of the things I find most frustrating is a cover letter that reads like a CV with complete sentences and transitions. I want a cover letter to provide an example or two, tell me something about the candidate that I won’t learn in the CV, or tell me about the candidate’s ideas about how they will contribute to a new work place. A really good cover letter makes me want to have a conversation with the person applying.

Last thoughts: I know it is increasingly likely that people are applying for multiple jobs which is time consuming. So it is tempting to craft a cover letter than can be repurposed. I think you can do that and still be sure you leave yourself the time to make sure your potential future colleagues see that you are applying for this specific job at this specific library.


Elizabeth “Beth” Cox, Director, Cataloging, Metadata & Digitization Dept., University of Iowa Libraries:

Does your organization ask for Cover Letters? Yes.

Do you ask for cover letters explicitly in the job ad or do you just expect to receive them? We specifically ask for a cover letter “that clearly addresses how you meet the listed required and desired qualifications of this position.” [Quoted from our job ads]

In one brief sentence, what is the purpose of a cover letter? For me personally, to respond to items in the job ad not already covered in your resume or CV.

How many pages should a cover letter be? 1-2 pages

Do you have a preference for format (docx, pdf, etc)? No.

If you receive job applications by email, should the cover letter be included in the body of the email, as an attachment, or both? Applications cannot be submitted via e-mail. They can only be submitted by our online system.

Do you expect that a cover letter will be tailored to your job opening? Absolutely.

Does the Cover letter receive more, equal, or less weight than other parts of the application? Equal. The cover letter shows me that you can adequately communicate in writing and that you have read the job ad and are responding to it directly.

What information do you want to see included in the cover letter (and is this specified in the job ad)? I want to see items from the job ad addressed that you cannot include in a resume or CV, such as more detail about how you meet a specific qualification or an example from previous experience that aligns with an item within the listed job responsibilities.

What kinds of things make cover letters stand out (in good or bad ways)? Bad ways: Spelling errors, poor grammar, incorrect position title or institution name (yep, I’ve seen both). Good ways: Concrete examples of how you are a good fit for this position; addressing every point in the required quals.

Anything else you want to tell us about cover letters? While you don’t have to re-write your cover letter from scratch for each job you’re applying to, make sure that your letter is applicable. Triple check that you have addressed all of the qualifications, that you have entered the correct position title and institution name, then have someone else check it. If you’re not sure how to address something from the ad, ask someone!


Gregg Currie, College Librarian, Selkirk College: My organization asks for cover letters.  

The purpose of a cover letter is to tell us why you want to work for my organization, and why we should hire you. (Resume shows us your qualifications, cover letter shows us why those will fit with our job posting).

Cover letters should be one page, a separate attachment, and a pdf format.

Cover letter absolutely has to be tailored to the job posting.  And if you attach the wrong cover letter you automatically are on the reject pile. (I’ve seen this a few times, so pro tip – name it something more than ‘cover letter’)

 A cover letter that stands out is one that really shows why you want to work for my organization and why your skills & experience match with the position. It needs to be upbeat and enthusiastic!  Also if you are applying to a position in a different city from where you are located, mention why you would like to relocate.  I run a library in rural BC, and if someone is applying for the position from a big city far away, say Toronto, I want to see something about why you would want to make the move. (Often big city people struggle relocating to rural areas, and I want to hire someone who seems like they will stay.)

Cover letter is very important, so spend time tailoring it to the specific posting, and if it requires you to move, mention why you would like to relocate.

Sincerely hoping to never see another applicant attach the wrong cover letter,

Gregg


Hilary Kraus, Research Services Librarian, UConn Library: My organization asks for cover letters, and in my experience that’s typical across academic libraries. While I recognize that it’s a lot to ask for folks on the market who are applying to many jobs, you really do need to customize it to the specific position. A cover letter’s purpose is to tell us why you want the job and why you’d be a great candidate; this should build on, not replace or repeat, what’s on your resume/CV. Everyone has their own opinions on length, but I’d say one page is sufficient for early career folks, two for mid-career and above, and maybe a little longer than 2 if it’s for an administrative role. Workplaces attempting to evaluate candidates equitably will generally use a matrix. They’ll look at a combination of the information in your resume/CV and cover letter to complete the matrix. If you fail to demonstrate that you meet the minimums, they can’t interview you. That said, just meeting the minimums isn’t enough to stand out. You’re also trying to demonstrate your interest in, and ability to perform, the responsibilities of the job. At the very least, hit the highlights, showing how your qualifications prepare you to do the work of the position. If they mention something a couple of times, be sure you address it. I realize it’s hard to pack all that information into 1-2 pages, but do the best you can! Finally, some folks are sticklers for grammar and spelling, so be sure you’ve spell-checked it, read the letter aloud to yourself and, if possible, had a friend give it a quick copy-edit. And make sure you’ve got the right institution name at the top!


Anonymous Federal Librarian: There is no expectation of a cover letter for federal jobs that I have ever seen. I don’t recall seeing any in any of the hiring actions I have lead, nor have I read any cover letters. Another bonus of applying for federal jobs.


Ellen Mehling, Job Search Advisor/Instructor and Brooklyn Public Library’s Job Information Resource Librarian: 

  • Cover letters are requested with resumes (former employer).
  • The purpose of a cover letter is for the applicant to convey, in their own words, why they are applying and why they feel they are a strong candidate for the position, and to persuade the reader to contact them for an interview.
  • Cover letters should always be tailored to the job description.
  • A cover letter should be one page maximum – those who read them appreciate it if applicants get to the point and stay on topic re: the job requirements. No unnecessary/unrelated info, please! When in doubt, read the job description again and ask yourself, “Is including this going to help me get the interview?” Think of what the reader is likely to be looking for.
  • Some Applicant Tracking Systems work better with a Word doc, some are fine with pdf or Word. When in doubt, a Word doc may not be the applicant’s preference, but is a safer choice. If the employer specifies a format, follow their instructions.
  • Whether the cover letter carries as much weight, or more, or less weight, than the resume, depends on the reader. One person on a hiring committee may read them carefully while another person on the same committee may focus only on the resumes. As an applicant, you cannot know how important it is to those who will be reading it, so your best bet is to put effort and care into it.
  • The applicant should address the duties and responsibilities of the job and how well they match the requirements, and also explain anything that might require explanation (such as a significant recent gap in employment, or a current address that is far from the location of the job they are applying for).
  • A general, one-size-fits-all cover letter will stand out in a bad way; it conveys that the applicant is giving the least effort possible. Any errors – spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, etc., and/or sloppy formatting, leave a bad impression. Customized cover letters that convey confidence and enthusiasm re: the job, and that show that the applicant has done their homework re: the employer, stand out in a good way.

Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: 

Does your organization ask for Cover Letters?
To my knowledge, the college has never required cover letters. In addition – now – a “cover letter” is not among the pieces or sections required for completing submission of our online application packet.

Do you ask for cover letters explicitly in the job ad or do you just expect to receive them?
I expect to receive some type of introductory information…and the more “fill in the blank” the process is – the more you need to add a touch of yourself or “selling yourself.” I should also add, if you had asked me that even a year ago, I would have said that I can’t imagine anyone submitting an application without one; however, since our new application packet does NOT require one, we do now and will continue to get people applying who do not include one (and there IS space for one in the packet format.)

In one brief sentence, what is the purpose of a cover letter?
The cover letter serves to introduce the applicant to the organization (the hiring team, the manager, a screening committee, etc.,) illustrate the “match” of the applicant to the open position and identify that the applicant has all of the requirements needed to be a successful candidate – or at least qualify for an interview.

How many pages should a cover letter be?
While I don’t think there is a magic number of words or pages suggested or required for – actually – any part of application sections, I think a cover letter should be fewer than two pages.

Do you have a preference for format (docx, pdf, etc)?
While this answer outlines something that is certainly our own problem with our software package used for the application process, the reality is that unless a pdf is uploaded, other formats often upload but then exhibit problems with odd spacing, extraneous characters, images lost, etc. Luckily, I think most application packages do allow pdfs and I suggest that – if they don’t allow pdfs – applicants should be careful about cutting and pasting and should avoid uploading word documents (any version) and – as a more successful fallback, upload pdfs. Also – a recommended but certainly time-consuming approach is to take the time and enter text directly into the package,

If you receive job applications by email, should the cover letter be included in the body of the email, as an attachment, or both?
There is no harm in doing both unless the organization has instructions and they say otherwise.

Do you expect that a cover letter will be tailored to your job opening?
Tailored introductory letters are the most effective cover letters, so I advise that applicants do tailor their content, but if you can’t (ex. you have someone else doing it for you, etc.) be sure your generic cover letter does not – for example – speak to your interest in or commitment to an area that is not part of the job …example “I am excited about the profession and the direction of archival management….” but the position I am offering has nothing to do with archives.

Does the Cover letter receive more, equal, or less weight than other parts of the application?
While introductory information is important to those assessing applicant packets for interviews, not every committee member sees every packet. That is – if I have 125 applicants – I might split the committee up and have each member – using a rubric – assess only portions of the pool (a-k, and so on.) But even then – rather than the cover letter being assessed, the information delivered in the letter would be assessed and most of those elements should be in the application packet anyway.

If your organization has automated application screening, is the automated screening also applied to cover letters?
We don’t have an “automated screening” that relates to content. That is, the software HR uses scans to make sure all the “boxes are checked” and the blanks are filled in but most automated checks – if not all – are not quality driven.

What information do you want to see included in the cover letter (and is this specified in the job ad)?
I do want a cover letter to illustrate the “match” of the candidate to the open position and identify that the applicant has all of the requirements needed to be a successful candidate – but our job ads only direct people to the online application process.

What kinds of things make cover letters stand out (in good or bad ways)?

  • Directions – It sounds simple but applicants should follow the directions.
  • Writing – One would think it would be obvious, but spelling, punctuation and grammar should be perfect.
  • Terminology – Be sure you have referred to the organization correctly…the level within the educational setting, the type of library, etc. In addition, any titles referred to should be current, accurate, etc.
  • A Match – The cover letter should provide a simple cross walk from credentials possessed to required (and if someone can) preferred areas. Don’t bury the headline…and – if you are in a position that IS comparable – but your title isn’t – spell it out…let the reviewer or committee know you HAVE what you need and you match what they need, it just may be identified differently in your current or past job descriptions.
  • Additional Information – if you want to apply for a position because you have always wanted to live somewhere or your partner is moving there or your parents or children are there, avoid mentioning that. That is, there is no need to make something up as to why you want to apply/come to work there, just don’t refer to the “real” reason at all.

Anything else you want to tell us about cover letters?
I always advise people to write cover letters after you do your homework on the community, the location, the organization and the position itself. I think creating an introductory letter – when you focus on your own needs – should give you insight as to whether or not you should apply at all. If you don’t focus and do your homework and get the interview, become a finalist or possibly offered the job and then decide it isn’t for you because of something you should already have known, you will seldom get a second chance, and it is possible that word of how you handled the application might not be the impression you want to leave with people. It is a very small profession!


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or written on the menu at the Grubstake Diner . If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

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About a Decade Later: Former Job Hunter Mark Hall

headshot of Mark Hall. He has brown hair and beard, and wears a maroon shirt with suspenders.

Back in 2012/2013 I ran a survey of job hunters (co-authored by Naomi House of INALJ). It had over 500 responses, including 117 people who were at least initially willing to be non-anonymous. In this series, we check in with these respondents to see where they are about a decade later. 

Mark Hall filled out the original survey in 2014 and his answers appeared as At this point, I’m leaning towards blood sacrifice. He was working as a Library Service Specialist and had been looking for positions which better suited his MLIS for about 18 months. 

Mark is still in libraries, and has found that librarian title in a new location. He was kind enough to answer my questions below. 

Where are you now? 

I have since changed cities, working for a public library as an Adult Services Librarian/Assistant Manager, under the job title “Librarian II”. For a time at Houston Public Library, I was one of three degreed librarians in my branch working as “Library Service Specialists”… essentially, non-degreed librarians, working on a non-leadership track, for a lot less money. For 2017 and most of 2018, I worked in the Pasadena Public Library as the Teen Services Librarian, but left that and eventually came here in September of 2018. I’m now at my second branch in the system; the new one was much closer to home.

Were any parts of my journey unexpected? 

Pretty much all of it. In 2014, I assumed that getting a degree in Library Science would allow me to move up in HPL, my organization at the time. I left HPL because they were unwilling to promote from within; as mentioned, we had 3 of us getting underpaid for Librarian work, with Librarian credentials. Pasadena was a poor fit; incredibly long commute, and a system that did not support professionals, nor acknowledge infrastructure and demographic changes (i.e. they stopped having busses to get kids from the high schools, and cheaper internet meant fewer kids drawn there after school). My new city was hiring, however.

Was blood sacrifice actually necessary?

On the advice of my attorneys, I am invoking my 5th amendment rights against testimony that may incriminate me.

Looking over your past answers, what pops out at you? Has anything changed? 

I don’t think much has changed. I’ve said for years that librarianship is, in many ways, a gerontocracy… It’s the kind of job you can do into your 80s if your mind stays sharp, and so getting a new job is pretty much a matter of waiting for someone to die… or get hired elsewhere. One thing I did not note was how big of a place governmentjobs.com played in my application process… I know I was reluctant to apply somewhere I had to fill out a paper application and mail it in.

Have you had a chance to hire anyone? If so, what was that like?

I’ve been involved in a couple interview panels; you read your assigned questions (assigned within a group, in a round-robin situation), and make notes, then collaborate with the panel as to who should be hired, and why, and by whom. Since we’re a good sized city, it’s a matter of doing an interview then making a recommendation, rather than direct hire. Also, as a city, all of the salaries are relatively accessible; jobs have a job code, which corresponds to a salary range.

Do you have any advice for job hunters?

You want an r-selected strategy… throw out TONS of resumes and applications for any library job that meets your needs. Most will not get back to you. Don’t be afraid to talk about your accomplishments and hobbies in “professional” language… there’s nothing wrong with calling D&D an exercise in strategy, tactics, and logistics. When they ask about experience, interpret broadly if the requirement is 3 years or less. Worked as a sub? That’s education. Take some kids to the library while subbing? Shoot, that’s some library experience. Your purpose is to get to the interview.

Do you have any advice for people who hire LIS folks?

Be honest about experience requirements and salary. We may like the work, but we’re here for the money.  While salary codes are great, numbers talk better. Realize that some people are going to be entry-level, with little experience. Promote from within; I know it means you then need to fill the vacant slot but, for fucks’ sake, your internal hires know the system, and promoting from within breeds loyalty.

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

  • Join a union. Public Library work is usually municipal, and a union will protect and promote you. 
  • Make sure to know your policies, and where they bend and where they break. 
  • Never piss off your city’s fiscal department.
  • Document the fuck out of everything you do; when reviews come around, be able to say “I ran this program and collaborated on these things.”  
  •  Don’t kill yourself for work; there’s a job posting next week if you do. 
  • Don’t tug on Superman’s cape. 
  • Don’t spit into the wind. 
  • Develop strong opinions about one or more parts of the Dewey Decimal System; I love that 973 is often code for the US, even in other sections (i.e cookbooks are 641.5973 if they’re about American cuisine), and think the 200s need to be aggressively reorganized, no matter the manpower cost. 
  • Don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
  • Have a signature program that works everywhere; mine is D&D. 
  • If you’re a public librarian, remember that is ALL of the public. If you think you can’t put books on the shelf about trans people, if you’re not willing to look for diverse fiction, go fuck yourself, and find a church library to rot in. You have no place in public libraries, and everyone else makes fun of you.
  • It is impossible to be moral and a Republican (or Tory, or insert-your-country’s-ethnofascist-party here).
  • Always smile at babies and wave. Not only is it good practice and makes them happy, it makes parents happy, and they’re the ones who vote and write glowing reviews to your supervisors.

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About a Decade Later: Former Job Hunter Jessica Olin

headshot of Jessica Olin, a white woman with long hair. She is smiling, but not broadly.

Back in 2012/2013 I ran a survey of job hunters (co-authored by Naomi House of INALJ). It had over 500 responses, including 117 people who were at least initially willing to be non-anonymous. In this series, we check in with these respondents to see where they are about a decade later. 

Jessica Olin filled out the original survey in 2013 and her answers appeared as Being Yourself at Every Stage of the Process, But the Best Version of Yourself. At the time, she had just finished her job search, landing in a position as Director of the Robert H. Parker Library at Wesley College in Dover, Delaware. You may recognize her name as she was also the author of the popular blog, Letters to a Young Librarian (2011-2019).

She is no longer in libraries, and her jump to project management has provided good work-life balance and a feeling of being appreciated. She was kind enough to answer my questions below.

Where are you now? What’s your work situation like, and what path did you take to get where you are?

I’m a project coordinator at a large-ish telecom company. I mostly work from home, using computer equipment that was provided by my employer. I work with some great people, but best of all: I’m not in charge of anyone anymore. I work with people who all seem to appreciate my opinions and the value I bring. Plus I only work 40 hours per week. It’s great! The path I took to get here consisted mostly of finding a tech recruiter who saw my transferable skills for what they are and then found an opportunity that suited.

Were any parts of your journey completely unexpected?

The part where I got laid off from libraries and needed to decide whether to move to stay in the same field or find a new career to stay in the same area.  

Looking over your past answers, what pops out at you? Has anything changed? 

The biggest thing that’s changed is that I’m no longer in the field. I’m still a little bitter about how it happened (getting laid off the way I did, towards the beginning of the pandemic, was kind of a nightmare) but I’m much happier out of libraries than I had been for a long time. 

Have you had a chance to hire anyone? If so, what was that like?

I was the director at two different academic libraries, and at one of them it felt like I was constantly in the process of hiring/interviewing/on-boarding. It’s a difficult process, especially when you’re not only dealing with the task of presenting the institution and yourself to best advantage but also the vagaries of internal politics.

Do you have any advice for job hunters?

My old advice still stands (“Being yourself at every stage of the process, but the best version of yourself.”), but also remember you’re interviewing the institution as much as they’re interviewing you. You should be looking for whether or not the place is a good fit for you, not just the other way around. True, it can be hard to stick to that when you really need a job and sometimes any job is better than no job, but toxic work environments can hurt you for years even if you leave. There are good, even great, libraries out there. You deserve to work at one of those. 

Do you have any advice for people who hire LIS folks?

More transparency at every stage. I’m a huge fan of the trend of giving people interview questions to candidates ahead of the interview. Also, be willing to pay for transportation ahead of time instead of just reimbursing. 

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

A librarian really is a project manager, and I know plenty of people who made the same or similar transitions as the one I made. Not everyone will see “librarian” on a resume and agree, but the right position will.

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How’s the Math Now? Looking at the lack of library job growth over the last decade

Back when I was first writing Hiring Librarians, and a very early career librarian myself, I had some anxiety that there wouldn’t be enough librarian  jobs for all the people who wanted librarian jobs. I wrote a couple posts, Tell Me My Math is Wrong, Because I Don’t Like These Numbers in 2012 and Library Jobs Math in 2014, exploring some of the available statistics. It didn’t look good to me – it looked like we were turning out too many graduates for the rate of growth, even considering that the boomers were supposed to be retiring and creating a librarian shortage (there was also supposed to be a shortage of sea captains, according to Forbes).

Now that I’m back at the blog and it’s about ten years later, I’m curious how things have shaken out. So, I thought I’d take a look at some of the statistical sources to see what’s changed. 

The change in predicted rate of growth.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides some key information for potential future librarians in its Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), and it is the source I used for predicted job growth. The predicted growth rate for librarians and Library Media Specialists was 7% for 2012-2022, compared to growth rate for all occupations predicted at 11%. 

Today, the growth rate for librarians and library media specialists is predicted to be 6% for 2021-2031.1 The growth of the job market for all occupations is expected to be 5%. So our current growth rate is lower than was previously predicted, but closer to the total for all occupations (and in proportion to the total for all occupations, the rate of growth has shrunk less).

Was the 7% growth prediction accurate? 

It doesn’t seem like it. 

In 2014 I reported on the number of librarians listed on the statistical chart entitled Employed persons by detailed occupation and age, 2013 annual averages (data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey). The number was 194,000. 

In 2021 the chart Employed persons by detailed occupation and age, 2021 annual averages (data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey) lists the number of librarians as 158,000.

194,000 minus today’s number of 158,000 equals 36,000 fewer librarian jobs.

That’s a loss of 18.55%.

Before we all freak out, let’s look at another source to compare. The BLS’ OOH actually has different numbers. When I went looking to find out why these numbers differ, an ALA generated PDF told me that:

“The data represented in the OOH comes from the Occupational Employment Statistics Survey. The semiannual mail survey of 200,000 employers gathers employment estimates and wages. The Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (CPS) provide the number of librarians, including age ranges, as self-reported in interviews of a sample of 60,000 households in 754 sample areas.”

Thanks, ALA!

The OOH tells us that in 2021 there were 138,400 librarians and library media specialists. In 2012 the OOH told us there were 148,400. So that is only 10,000 fewer librarians, and a loss of 6.7%. Not as bad. Note I’m also not measuring the same time period – this is all pretty rough. 

Let’s look at another source. The AFL-CIO put together a 2021 Fact Sheet entitled Library Professionals: Facts & Figures. Using data from the  U.S. Census Bureau. Current Population Survey Microdata. 2020, they say

“Cumulative employment among librarians, library technicians, and library assistants dropped severely in 2020 to 264,270, down from 308,000 in 2019. This is most likely due to the widespread health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the vast majority of libraries to close for at least part of the year. Before the pandemic, employment of professionals had been gradually declining after hitting a peak of 394,900 in 2006.”

So yeah. We most likely did not grow 7% since I last looked in 2014.

Ok, are we still graduating too many librarians?

Data USA tells us that in 2020 there were 4,965 Masters degrees awarded in Library Science in the US. Library Journal also has some numbers. Their current Placements & Salaries survey used data from 34 of the 58 US-based ALA accredited library schools and they “reported that LIS master’s degrees were bestowed on 4,931 graduates, a 9 percent increase over 2020.”

In my 2014 post I used the Library Journal number, which was 6,184. I’m unable to backtrack to their survey methods for that year (2013), but it looks like they gathered data from 41 schools. So, maybe we’re getting fewer graduates or maybe it’s just that they looked at fewer schools in 2021. It’s hard to compare.

The Data USA site does tell us that the number of library degrees awarded (all degrees, not just Masters) is declining by 5%. It is unclear what time period they are referencing. This number apparently “includes STEM majors.”

So the number of librarians has declined, but rate we are minting new grads is also declining…

Let’s do a brief dive into that number of librarians leaving the profession. 

I’ll just take a look at the extensive research that’s been done there.

Ok, not a lot has been done. I looked through the LISTA database and couldn’t find much. Then I checked my work on Twitter and had some good conversations about why this is a difficult subject to research, possible places to draw numbers from, anecdotal evidence, and a skosh of actual research. 

What about those boomers? Are they retiring?

We can do some speculation there. In 2014 I looked at the number of librarians who were aged 55-64, the number of librarians who were 65 and older and then mathed out a few possible scenarios in terms of number of retirements. 

The Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population survey breaks down librarians by age group. The current survey (2021) tells us 20,000 librarians are in the age group 65 years and older (12.6% of total) and an additional 40,000 are between the ages of 55 and 64 (25.3% of total).2

In 2013 there were 194,000 librarians reported in this survey; 17,000 were 65 and older (8.76% of total) and 53,000 librarians were between the ages of 55 and 64 (27.3% of total).

There are 10,000 fewer librarians aged 55 and over than there were when we last checked.

So, some of those boomers did retire! Or maybe they left for high paying corporate jobs, who can say?

This is kind of interesting. Let’s look at both the 55 to 64 age group and the 65 and over age group in aggregate. In 2013, 36% of librarians were 55 and over. In the current survey, 37.9% are 55 and older.

So, given that there are 10,000 fewer librarians over 55, but they represent a slightly higher percent of the total librarian population, could it be that those retiring boomers were not replaced?

In Conclusion

I look at the number of 36,000 fewer librarians and I am alarmed.

But, the math here is pretty fuzzy. I am not a statistician or a data wonk, so please feel free to tell me what I’ve muddled up.

Considering causes, we certainly lost librarians due to COVID related reasons, or great resignation related reasons, or any number of the-last-few-years-have-really-made-folks-make-drastic-changes reasons. And those positions might be replaced when things are more stable. I know the position I left at a public library in January 2021 has only now, in October 2022, been filled. PLA’s recent Public Library Staff and Diversity Report notes that “More than a quarter (27%) of all public libraries report they lost staff positions in the prior 12 months. City (32.7%) and suburban (33.2%) libraries were slightly more likely to have lost staff positions than town/rural libraries (21.1%).” This seems to indicate that a significant portion of the loss I’m seeing over the last 8 years may have been concentrated in the last 12 months. 

So maybe there’s a reason to temper my alarm?

There’s another aspect of the MLIS degree holders versus jobs equation that I don’t think I’ve paid enough attention to: some people graduate with their MLIS never intending to work in a library. Data USA tells us that only 35.5% of Library Science graduates go on to work as Librarians and Media Collection Specialists, although this number does include undergraduate degrees and PhDs. So the loss of librarians doesn’t necessarily translate into disappointed, unemployed library grads. 

There’s a lot that’s unclear for me in the forecast. While I do think that the BLS’ prediction of 7% growth the last decade turned out to be bunkum, they are professionals, and they might end up being right about the next decade.  

Footnotes

  1. Note that if you remove Library Media Specialists and look instead at job growth for Librarians, Curators and Archivists, the growth rate is only 4%.
  2. Compare with all occupations: 6.6% are 65 years and older and 16.9% are between the ages of 55 and 64.

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Neurodiversity and physical ability aren’t even on people’s radars as indicators of diversity.

Photograph of the Visit of Mrs. Gladys Sheriff, Librarian of Fourah Bay College, University College, Freetown, Sierra Leone, to the National Archives, 7/23/1964. National Archives

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Academic Library 

Title: Department Head

Titles hired include: Most positions don’t have titles, just profiles

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ The position’s supervisor

√ Other:  Department head (who is usually the supervisor for the position).

Which of the following does your organization regularly require of candidates?

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ CV

√ Other:  It depends. We usually have one round of interviews; two if there are 2+ good candidates. The second round will come with an assignment. 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

Briefly describe the hiring process at your organization and your role in it:

See comment under #5 (Which of the following does your organization regularly require of candidates?). The hiring process is somewhat simple and structured and governed by policy. The writing of the job description and getting approval from the director is a long, less structured process.

Think about the last candidate who really wowed you, on paper, in an interview, or otherwise. Why were they so impressive?

Having a good cover letter, honestly. And in the cover letter, demonstrating that they’ve done a close reading of the job description and have a clear understanding of what the job entails. So few applicants do that – it makes the ones who do really stand out. Also, this has meant, in the majority of cases, a smooth transition into the new function – not to mention a good interview with a concrete foundation. 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Maybe this makes me a jerk, but at the application stage, poorly formatted or unusually formatted resumes/CVs can be deal breakers (and by ‘unusual’, I don’t mean like the amazing comic resume/CV one candidate submitted).

Reason 1: I want my team to have good teammates. My team specializes in information and data literacy, which includes presenting info and data clearly and with/within certain professional standards. So, to me, the format alone already gives some indication about whether the applicant is at the expected level – and in some cases, if they are tech or information literate themselves. 

Reason 2: We process, review and respond to every single application ‘by hand’ so anything that makes a resume or CV harder to read and get through (like dates in weird places, inconsistent or odd formatting or fonts, missing email addresses, etc.) means it can get overlooked in favor of those without issues. 

That said, a good cover letter and some enthusiasm will almost always win the day.

What do you wish you could know about candidates that isn’t generally revealed in the hiring process?

If they’re going to drop out after getting tenure and/or make things harder for the rest of the team.

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One!  

Resume: √ Only One!  

CV: √ Two is ok, but no more 

What is the most common mistake that people make in an interview?

Being too nervous or putting too much pressure on themselves to do everything ‘right’. I’m just trying to have a conversation to get to know the candidate & I’m not trying to trick anyone or pull any gotcha moves. I want to know who the candidate is and how they think and what they want from the job. I want to see if there’s a connection and if we can work together.

Do you conduct virtual interviews? What do job hunters need to know about shining in this setting?

Yes! I’m not sure, honestly. 

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

There are at least two levels for me here. 

#1 is organizational awareness or sensitivity or understanding of working in a large or complex organization. One interviewee talked about her experience organizing a volunteer event with the city, but she forgot to inform an important party about something and ended up causing some hurt feelings and mistrust. She was able to resolve things but learned a lot of lessons about stakeholders and hierarchies. Her example was convincing and worked for me.

#2 is content knowledge. This is a little trickier, perhaps. I’d be convinced by someone demonstrating some research and/or asking good questions. For example, one fresh graduate from a non-library program asked which information literacy framework we followed and then drew upon her experiences as a student to connect to the job description and tasks. “After I saw the framework, I thought back on the library skills training we did as freshmen and I realized how well the training fit with the framework. I never knew!”

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad 

What does your organization do to reduce bias in hiring? What are the contexts in which discrimination still exists in this process?

We are required by policy to have diverse interview teams (usually 3-4 people in any interview process). ‘Diverse’ has very little meaning here as 95% of the library staff are white and local to the region. A ‘diverse’ interview team generally means we have to have men + women, preferably from departments outside of our own. Neurodiversity and physical ability aren’t even on people’s radars as indicators of diversity. Strangely, LGBTQ+ people are so accepted as to be almost invisible, hence the return to man + woman as indicators.

Discrimination is still crazy. In one application round, we had a fantastic application from someone who grew up in Vietnam. He had an amazing cover letter, too. My former boss said, “Guess we’ll have to pass on this one.” I asked why. He said, “You know how they are. No respect for women. We already have enough turmoil in the department.” (The turmoil being me, the first new employee in 10+ years, and an immigrant to boot.) After picking apart his weak ‘argument’, I took the issue to HR. 

In what contexts does discrimination still exist? Well, that ^. Also in what I wrote above about semi-dismissing messy resumes/CVs. We could very well be rejecting good candidates who just don’t know how things work here (not that we get many applications from people from diverse or international backgrounds), even with lax language requirements.

What questions should candidates ask you? What is important for them to know about your organization and the position you are hiring for?

Ask me anything! It’s important to know that we, like all other university libraries in the country, work with profiles and not with strict job/task descriptions. That means that in 3 years or 5 years or whenever, people can be asked to do different tasks that fit their profile. I see it as an overall positive, though it was very confusing when I started my own job.

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Other: Mainland Europe

What’s your region like?

√ Urban 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 101-200 

Is there anything else you’d like to say, either to job hunters or to me, the survey author? 

To you: good questions – good food for thought! Thanks for the opportunity to reflect!

To job hunters: I’d rather hire a person with potential who fits with the team and has a growth mindset than a stick in the mud with experience.

Author’s note: Hey, thanks for reading! If you like reading, why not try commenting or sharing? Or are you somebody who hires Library, Archives or other LIS workers? Please consider giving your own opinion by filling out the survey here.

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 100-200 staff members, Academic, Urban area